Hardik Pandya and a heart-warming redemption story

Hardik Pandya in ICC T20 WC 2024 Final
Hardik Pandya in ICC T20 WC 2024 Final (PC: BCCI/X)

After 16 overs, South Africa were 151/4. The equation for them came down to 26 runs off 24 balls, with six wickets in hand. The Proteas could sniff the trophy.

For Rohit Sharma, he had to make a decision. Jasprit Bumrah had bowled the previous over and it had to be Hardik Pandya or Arshdeep Singh for the next one. The skipper turned to Pandya.

The first ball of the 17th over was full and wide, and Pandya had rolled his fingers over the seam. Heinrich Klaasen reached out for a swat through covers but nicked the ball to Rishabh Pant behind the stumps. Another six balls of Klaasen, and South Africa would have been out of sight. India came roaring back instead. Klaasen’s dismissal was match-turning.

Pandya finished the T20 World Cup with 11 wickets from eight matches at an economy rate of 7.64. He was India’s most successful bowler in the final, claiming 3/20 in three overs. Klaasen was his most important scalp.

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The tournament was Pandya’s redemption and after the final, he couldn’t hold back his tears. For two months during the IPL, boo-boys targeted him wherever he went. He had to face deplorable abuse on social media. The fans were singing his name after India won the trophy. And as he stood on the field, recollecting his emotions, Rohit came and gave his deputy a hug and a kiss. All misunderstandings vanished into thin air.

An ankle injury had ruled Pandya out midway into last year’s World Cup. He came back to competitive cricket in the IPL, but had a forgettable campaign, both as a player and Mumbai Indians captain. The all-rounder suffered a lot, but he kept quiet.

The title triumph in the Caribbean gave him an opportunity to look back, and Pandya spoke his heart out, after turning the booing into cheers.

“(This is) more special for me, how my last six months were, I haven’t spoken a word,” he told the host broadcaster. “I knew that if I kept working hard, I could shine and do what I could do. Getting an opportunity like this makes it more special. We always believed.”

Hardik Pandya vs South Africa
Hardik Pandya vs South Africa (PC: BCCI/X)

He spoke about Jasprit Bumrah and the other bowlers, and how it was important for him to keep calm under intense pressure. “Credit to Jassi and the other bowlers for those last five overs,” said Pandya. “Knew it would not help me if I wasn’t calm. Wanted to commit 100 per cent to every ball I bowled.”

Pandya, like his teammates, was happy to make the occasion memorable for Rahul Dravid, the head coach who called time on his India coaching stint. “Very happy for him (Dravid),” said the vice-captain. “He has been a wonderful man (and I) really enjoyed working with him. To give him a farewell like this is wonderful. Have had a very good relationship with him and (we) became friends.”

Credit to the Ajit Agarkar-led selection committee that shut out the outside noise and kept faith in Pandya. The selectors and the team management knew his value and entrusted him with vice-captaincy. And now that Rohit has hung up his T20I boots, bigger responsibility beckons the 30-year-old.

A fresh journey will begin for India in the shortest format under a new captain and a new coach. For a team that runs on autopilot, the transition should be seamless.

Also Read: The mental skill behind Kohli’s gritty 76 in the World Cup final